This is a short piece of observational writing from our short time spent in Johor Bahru in April this year. It was our final Malaysian stop before heading back to New Zealand for a couple of months.
The heaving bus shuddered as streaks of lightning fissured above us. My nausea was momentarily eased by the tap tap tap of greasy water leaking out through the window seal above my rested cheek on the window. Our six month journey was coming to a close, the sense of adventure was waning. Each crack of lightning bringing us closer to home, something I had been dreading.. Asia had become familiar to me, a comforting landscape pulling me into it’s humid and sweaty arms with the promise of tropical fruits, sambal drenched buffets and broken footpaths. Malaysia has gotten under my skin, somewhere along the journey this semi-renovated, suffocatingly hot country won my heart.
Muggy storm clouds bobbed over top of Johor Bahru as our inter city bus made its final approach. This was to be our final Malaysian home for the coming week.
Ambling down the narrow steps of the coach, we were assured that the rain pelts down like this about the same time every day. Not that this, of course, eased any hesitations about rifling through the undercarriage to find our baggage.
Johor Bahru was a strikingly industrial city, swarming with a rainy haze and worn out high-rises. We were unceremoniously dumped under a crowded walkway leading into the comparable termina,l seasoned with the bullying calls of salesman and leering stares of local men. The smell of hot, wet asphalt intermingled with the sting of chilis as we teetered into our taxi. Peering out the window for toward an hour of rush-hour traffic, It became apparent that the scenery was in no rush to improve. Johor Bahru is the home to Malaysians wanting to earn the big dollars across the bridge in Singapore, but not wanting to pay their inflated living expenses.
Our time spent here was concise and entirely work focused, hiding behind hotel doors and completing a number of unfinished projects.
“Do you need a lift?” he queried, almost accusingly. After a few days spent in this local suburb of town I had grown accustomed to looking out of place here. We were standing outside of the only decent local eatery we had discovered, feeling disenchanted with the idea of eating our eleventh meal in a row here. He stared incredulous when we answered him, “A whole week? here?”. A Johor Bahru local, he had been out and explored the world, then returned. The idea of a tourist spending more than a day in transit in this grey, transit city was unheard of to him. After numbers were exchanged, tour of the area given and directions to return home once we were down browsing explained, he pulled off in his weary, old, Japanese import.
The time spent lingering in this transit city was unexpected, intercepted by acts kindness found in the most unexpected places, to a backdrop of tyre shops and discount stores. My dwindling expectations were occasionally refuted by the kindness of people we met.
Eventually I exited over the causeway en-route to Singapore Airport, not before posing for a series of photographs with our hotel’s exuberant owner and staff (JSL Hotel, In case you ever find yourself in Johor Bahru in need of a clean and friendly, albeit out of the way, hotel).